Q3 Reflection | What happens when it is personal? What happens when you…are…your research topic?

As a 2nd generation Asian American I relate directly to our participants in many ways. For the first 7 weeks of our research, I was able to disconnect the topic to my personal story. I quite literally became emotionally numb and avoided feeling anything at all costs. But the last two weeks my team and I have been questioned, poked, and prodded on the legitimacy of our topic. When instructors or my cohort asked me how I was feeling, I responded with “numb.”

I’ve always known I have the ability to turn off my emotions. My parents trained me to do so. I can remember distinct memories where my father would talk about his death or things children shouldn’t be forced to think about so that I would be “strong.” Along the way, somehow I also learned how to only turn off the bad ones…except they don’t go away, they just get shoved aside. So what happens? Triggers. For me, something will trigger me, and I break down.

So how do you explain to someone the reason there are emoji’s on the screen because emojis are the closest thing you have ever gotten from your dad that comes close to him telling you he loved you? Sure, logically I know… now. But for the majority of my life, I didn’t believe it. How do you tell them, you’re not alone, and many of your Asian American friends have similar experiences? The consequences of not believing you’re loved or lovable are detrimental to a person’s mental health. The Asian American Suicide rates are higher than any other ethnic group in America. My neighbor committed suicide while she was in high school and four years later I remember contemplating the same thing.

How do you continue to work on something so personal, allow yourself the room to process, and not fall apart? I’m not entirely sure, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the right answers… but I refuse to give up. This research topic will not be the last time I work on a subject I’m passionate about or have deep empathy for. I’m certain I will not be the last student or designer who feels a close tie to the topic either so maybe this will serve them as well.

  1. Figure out how you process and make sure you do that. – I’m an ENFJ, which means I process externally, internally, then externally before I can fully let go of something. It’s different for everyone, but when you stop creating space for processing, emotions don’t just disappear… they explode. I stopped blogging, talking about how I was feeling, drawing, writing, and I faced the consequences.
  2. Face the demon & stop running from it. – Demons always run faster. I have the privilege to be in a cohort where people are older & wiser than I. Through getting to know them I’ve learned if you don’t deal with your demons, you will carry them until you let them go. They will quite literally drag you down and affect all of your relationships. But when you face your demons there is much to be gained.  Joy, peace, perspective, understanding, and grace for people otherwise missed.


*Thanks Meg for sending me this.

3. Gratitude. If you’re reading this, it means you have access to electricity, the internet, and an electronic device at the very least. I try my hardest not to complain and approach each moment with joy but sometimes I fall short. Then I think back on what I was doing a year ago and remember how fortunate I am to be at AC4D. If you want a visual reminder of how fortunate you are, check out this website. With my previous salary as an interior designer, it put me at the top .57% of the WORLD. What’s even crazier is that as an interaction designer I’m projected to make 50-100% more.

4. Let others be there for you. This one’s counter-intuitive because American society tells you success means autonomy – being to completely do everything on your own. There’s a reason synthesis is near impossible by yourself. I’ve learned when you let others help it’s empowering for them and when you don’t it can disempower them. When someone gives you love or help the single most humble thing you could do is to receive it. For future students, you have such a short, sweet time with your cohort, and I assure you there is much to be learned from every single person. So even if it means staying up till 2 am – talk about it because someday soon your entire class will go their separate ways and you’ll miss those times. Allow yourself to be known – good and bad.

5. Learn how to love you, well. Take care of yourself – No one else is responsible for your happiness other than yourself. I’ve learned that peace and joy are things I have to foster from within first. The more I can love myself unconditionally- faults and all the more I am able to do so for others. I believe this affects us as designers & social entrepreneurs. A car can’t operate on E for every long and neither can you. This year at AC4D I’m slowly learning how to turn around and give myself a hug every once in a while too.

Being consistent is hard. It requires discipline and saying no or yes even when it’s counter intuitive. However, I know when people do… it leads them to places, solutions, and designs, they would have never seen other wise. I believe as designers and creatives we’re called to go way deeper than anyone else would so that others who can’t, don’t have to. Is it worth the fight? I think so, because at the end of the day – it’s about so much more than just us.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little cod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

– George Bernard Shaw